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Yankees defeat Rays 7-1 as Masahiro Tanaka vanquishes Snellzilla

The two Opening Day starters fought a classic pitchers’ duel, but New York’s offense could not be silenced for long.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Against what could only be described as the Yankees’ B-Team, it looked like a special night was brewing right away for the Rays’ ace Blake Snell. Masahiro Tanaka, meanwhile, appeared to have a tougher test against a potent and healthy Rays offense. Yet it was Tanaka who prevailed when all was said and done, leading his Yankees to a 7-1 win over the first-place Rays and their third consecutive series victory.

Snellzilla absolutely terrorized the Bombers’ bats in the early going. Whether he was serving up 97 mph fastballs that took off above the zone or devastating curveballs that plummeted down below it, the Yankees simply had no answer for the reigning AL Cy Young, who was perfect through three innings after taking a perfect game into sixth in his last outing.

DJ LeMahieu, the contact-hitting whiz, predictably registered the Yankees’ first hit on a weak grounder to third to lead off the fourth. But after Luke Voit drew an eight-pitch walk, Snell recovered to strike out the Yankees’ 3-4-5 hitters — all swinging. Between his prior start and his first four innings of work today, Snell allowed no runs on two singles and one walk while striking out 19.

It was the bottom of order that ultimately broke through against Snell. Following an Austin Romine double with two outs in the fifth, Mike Tauchman drove in the game’s first run two pitches later. Still the odds-on favorite to be sent down when Aaron Hicks makes his season debut tomorrow, Tauchman crushed a mistake fastball from Snell to dead center field, missing a home run by inches. The number nine hitter let out a scream as he cruised into second base — emblematic of the passion that this underdog team has played with all season long. LeMahieu then sliced another single to the opposite field, as he is wont to do, and gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Living up to his reputation as a big game pitcher, Tanaka put on his ace cap and matched Snell zero for zero. In fact, although he was less overpowering than his counterpart, he was far more efficient, hurling just 73 pitches in seven innings of one-run ball. And unlike in a few recent clunkers, Tanaka consistently kept his breaking balls down with the pinpoint command that has made him so successful in his career. His splitter still didn’t have quite the biting action it does when he’s at his best, while his fastball hovered around 90 mph. But by effectively mixing and locating those offerings, he managed to set up his slider, which had terrific movement.

The lone blemish for Tanaka was a sixth-inning home run off the bat of Austin Meadows, the Rays’ MVP to this point. After adding a single against another tough customer in Zack Britton, the former top prospect now boasts an otherworldly 1.148 OPS.

Tropicana Field is always full of surprises, and not the good kind. This afternoon was no exception, as the indoor stadium experienced a nearly hour-long delay due to a power outage.

When the lights finally came back on, Thairo Estrada confirmed that the power had returned with a solo home run, his second career round-tripper. In all, the Yankees would add four runs in the ninth to give Aroldis Chapman the night off. The big blow, per usual, came from Mr. Clutch Gio Urshela, who doubled with the bases loaded. Moved up to the three-hole after hitting at the bottom of the order in every other game this year, Urshela had been 0-4 with four strikeouts before the double. Miguel Andujar — the man Urshela was called up to replace — continued his post-injury slump, finishing 0-5 with three strikeouts. He’s hitting .128 compared to Urshela’s .341.

Chad Green provided the Yankees with perhaps the best sign of the day in the bottom half of the ninth. In his first game since being recalled from Triple-A, he showcased improved velocity and command, striking out the side to end the game. Green’s ERA is still an astronomical 14.54, of course, but he certainly looked like the dominant reliever we saw in 2017-18.

It was one of the more important wins of the young season for this young, hungry squad, who have won seven of their last ten against exclusively good teams. Even without Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres in the lineup today, the new Yankees formula of timely hitting, strong starting pitching, and a lockdown bullpen paid dividends yet again. Their record improves to 24-16 — a .600 winning clip through 40 games — while they miraculously find themselves just half a game out of first in the AL East.

The Yankees are back home tomorrow to square off against the last-place Orioles. They’ll send out Jonathan Loaisiga (4.50 ERA), looking to rebound from a rough start, to face the Orioles’ David Hess (5.50 ERA). The Rays will also have an easy matchup this week in the Marlins, before the two teams battle again in the Bronx on Friday.